Joe Schmidt: Being number two in the world has put pressure on Ireland
Joe Schmidt has conceded Ireland have struggled to cope with the pressure of their stellar 2018.
Ireland swept the board with a Six Nations Grand Slam last term and stunning victory over back-to-back world champions New Zealand in November.
All Blacks boss Steve Hansen installed Ireland as the world’s best team after Schmidt’s men saw off New Zealand 16-9 in Dublin - then insisted the men in green could struggle under the weight of that tag.
Hansen has this week claimed Ireland have indeed failed to cope with that burden, and now Schmidt has accepted the sentiment, with his men losing to England and labouring to wins in Scotland and Italy in this year’s Six Nations so far.
“Probably, the All Blacks are the only team who consistently stay at the top,” said Schmidt, ahead of Ireland hosting France in Dublin on Sunday.
“You consider England, Six Nations Grand Slam, they get the Six Nations the following year, and the year after that they are fifth.
“How does that happen with most of the same personnel?
“It is one of those things that it is a little bit difficult. I know even talking to Franck Azema in Clermont, champions one year and 10th the next. How does that happen?
“It’s not apathy, it’s not overconfidence, I’m not sure how you might explain it. But there’s a real forward-thinking about the group.
“So what’s happened last year is certainly last year.
“Because last year’s results don’t help you win anything this year.
“In fact, if anything, I think Steve is suggesting it hinders you winning things this year. It certainly puts a target on you.
“There’s no way that people come here and don’t want to beat a team that’s ranked where we are or a team that achieved what we did last year.
“But for us, it’s all about what we can achieve. And not even this year, it’s what we can achieve in just over 48 hours’ time.”
Meanwhile, after six championships in charge, tomorrow’s meeting with Les Bleus at the Aviva Stadium will be Schmidt’s last home Six Nations game and indeed the final competitive game in Dublin of his distinguished tenure.
He rarely shows emotion but the added significance of the Dublin game is not lost on the coach.
“I briefly mentioned it to my wife yesterday when I called in at home and it will be hard to say goodbye to it,” Schmidt said.
“We’ve had some great days and occasions in the Aviva and it would be great if this was another.
“Players play under those circumstances all the time. You never know when your next cap is coming and coaches are probably like that as well.
“You could be chopped at any time. It’s about the players this week. They take control and put the performance together. We are going to move on. These are things you will miss for sure.”